Everyday inquiry and inquiry learning

In this post I outline the characteristics of everyday inquiry and explain how everyday inquiry is related to inquiry learning.

Everyday inquiry involves asking questions, and finding and using information in a cyclic process.

Asking questions

An intuitive understanding of inquiry learning is that it has something to do with learning through asking questions.  The way we use the term ‘inquire’ (or enquire) in everyday life is generally related to asking questions.

Finding information

Inquiry is also related to finding information. Finding, noticing and gathering information is universal throughout the animal kingdom:

“The kind of inquiry that comes naturally is found in other mammals as well as human beings. It consists of examining, sniffing, or otherwise gathering information on anything novel that appears in the environment.” (Scardamalia & Bereiter, p. 3)

Using information

Once information is found, noticed and gathered it is used to make decisions or solve problems.


The process of asking, finding and using information to make decisions or solve problems can be discrete e.g. What fridge should I buy? or continuous e.g. How should I live my life to be happy and healthy? In the first example, my purposeful information seeking ends with the purchase of the fridge, although I may continue to notice information about fridges.

In the second example, the answer may change according to a range of factors acting upon me. In macro terms, I might know what it takes to be happy and healthy, but in micro terms I may need to be continually reappraising my happiness and healthiness – I may change the food I eat, my fitness regime, my work, the people I choose to associate with, my life goals etc. All of these micro choices involve asking questions and finding, noticing and using information.

In discrete and continuous inquiries, there are cycles within cycles of asking questions and finding, noticing and using information.  When researching a new fridge to buy I consulted a range of sources including review websites, I visited white goods showrooms and I asked advice from friends, colleagues and family. Each piece of new information generated new questions, which required a new search, which generated new questions…

And so it is with inquiry learning. The strength of inquiry learning is that it mirrors everyday processes. Indeed, a teacher-librarian I interviewed recently called it ‘an approach to life’ (Lupton manuscript).

Thus, inquiry learning as a pedagogy and curriculum design involves:

1)     questioning frameworks

2)     information literacy / information seeking processes

3)     an action research cycle

In my next post, I will tease out these three elements.


Lupton, M. (manuscript). Teaching inquiry learning. Teacher-librarian’s understandings and practices.

Scardamalia, M., & Bereiter, C. (2010). A brief history of knowledge building. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, 36(1), 1-16.

5 responses to “Everyday inquiry and inquiry learning

  1. I enjoyed this introductory post about inquiry learning. I agree with the idea that asking questions comes naturally to all in animal kingdom. Having taught kindergarten it was always wonderful to listen and respond to their spontaneous, heartfelt, and open questions. Curiosity in their eyes, and wonderment on their faces. Now working with adult literacy learners the notion of thinking about creating some questions just brings panic to their faces, fear to their hearts and groans of horror. I wonder what has happened in this intervening years to their capacity and willingness, even human need to question? Furthermore what approaches can we use for adults to rediscovery the joy of questions and the sense of personal power that comes from finding info, making decisions and shaping lives?

  2. Very interesting to read of your observations of your adult literacy learners. I wonder if their panic is related to a loss of face or a feeling of ‘dumbness’. Adults with literacy problems may have spent their life feeling ‘dumb’. I remember as a child being humiliated when someone mocked me for asking questions. For this reason I use various techniques with my adult learners such as an ‘Ask a dumb question’ anonymous online forum (or segment in the lesson if I’m teaching face-to-face) where I encourage students to ask ‘dumb’ questions. In my face-to-face classes I get students into small groups and ask them to come up with several questions which they relay back to the class. This means that it is the group who is asking the questions rather than the individual, therefore the loss of face is prevented 🙂

  3. I agree,
    this is an insightful way of viewing ‘Inquiry Learning’ within an applied framework. For me, this highlights one of the issues with inquiry, that of discernment. If I wish to buy a fridge, there will inevitably be a salesperson trying to misinform me in order to maximize the commission on the sale. Equally the world seems crowded with dubious claims concerning the means to achieve happiness and health.
    How then do we guide the inquiry of students without denying them the experience that teaches effective discernment skills?

  4. Another ‘Ah ha’ moment!! The Inquiry based framework indeed seems such a natural approach to gathering and using information. Students are always full of questions, so it makes sense to encourage / teach the skills required to find answers independently. My background has certainly been in Information Literacy which was indoctrinated into me years ago. A balance between Information Literacy and Information Inquiry seems like a good combination.

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